Top tips for
making surveys work for you

With tools such as Survey Monkey and Google Forms, it can be easy enough for people to bash out a quick survey to test opinion and gain insight and why not? It’s always good to engage with your stakeholders… isn’t it?

People usually do surveys for one of two reasons:


  1. To genuinely find out information or
  2. To provide evidence for a PR story they want to run.


I can’t stress enough how important it is to distinguish between the two (at least in your own mind, even if you don’t share that intention with others).

So when you’re designing your survey – proceed with caution, especially if you’re genuinely trying to find out what people think. For anyone unsure of the power of a survey to change opinion, I’d urge you to take a look at this clip of classic British comedy

If you do want to find out what someone thinks, and do bear in mind that opinions change so all you’re getting is a snapshot at any one point in time, you need to avoid social desirability effects and asking questions that are in any way leading, (I refer you back to the Yes Minister clip above). A good questionnaire includes some screeners for social desirability. These can be slightly leading questions that if a respondent answers positively to, you know they are unlikely to be being truthful.

You also need to avoid the autopilot response – someone who says ‘yes’ or ‘strongly agree’ to something, just because they’ve said yes to the last three questions – we’re creatures of habit! So vary the way you phrase the question to elicit all negative or positive responses.

Piloting the survey on a small number of people first can help you spot if any of your questions are easily misinterpreted. This is especially common in multiple-choice questions – have you ever done a multiple choice question and not felt that any of the options really represent your views?

You then have two choices – miss out the question leaving the researcher with an incomplete data set, or worse, answer with something that’s not really representing your views. It’s always a good idea to give a ‘don’t know/not applicable/prefer not to say’ option in multiple-choice unless you are very confident that your options cover all the possible answers from your sample.

It’s fine to have a question which says do you live in the UK  (yes/no) and then have a menu of all the counties for anyone who has answered ‘yes’. It’s less helpful to say which is your favourite colour – red/blue/green/yellow. Not too useful for someone who favours orange.

You also need to look at how you analyse the survey answers. Ideally, you’ll group answers around a topic and there should be consistency between answers that represent a similar view.

Quantifiable questions (those with a scale) are often used in surveys – we all like an 8 out of 10 cats type stat, but they’re not always the best for giving you the insight you need. Open-ended questions can help you explore the ‘Why’ and ‘How’ whereas numerical questions are better at providing insight into the ‘What’, When’, ‘How much’ aspects.

Then you have the PR-based survey. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been told we want to do a survey to show xyz. You’ve got your answer and you want some perception of credibility behind it and data is your friend. To be honest, I steer away from these kinds of projects – we’re ‘not that kind of agency’.

However, I’m pragmatic enough to know that there are times when you do just want to substantiate a claim and need some data to back it up. These are generally quicker and easier to do than the first type of survey because you’re not trying to ensure that your answers are 100 per cent accurate or your sample is representative etc, you just want to be able to say that in a survey (usually of over 1000 respondents if you want the media to take it seriously) ‘x’ per cent of respondents feel the way about an issue or your brand that you’d expected.

There’s a lot less at stake in a PR survey than when you’re in the true research phase and a brand’s future depends on the research being valid and reliable. But ethically, is building a brand on dodgy data a good long term strategy? If you do the first bit of research right, early on in the brand’s development and regularly as it evolves, you’ll get your PR pieces out of it anyway and won’t then need to cobble together a quick opinion poll for your story – your brand will have its identity and you can build authentic PR around that.

One other word of warning – give some thought to who you are surveying – super fans or the general public? You’ll get very different answers. Your fans will be more likely to respond to your survey but you can quickly annoy them if you bombard them with a new set of questions every few weeks.

Data is king – so if you do you need large-scale feedback on early designs, prototypes, packaging, marketing in numbers then a well thought out and executed surveys will allow you to identifying customer needs, preferences, and characteristics and can also provide data to support a PR campaign.

By really understanding the aim of your survey most of the above should fall into place, but if you need any help, do just give the team at FUNdamentally Children a call and we’ll do what we can to help you get the insight you need.